Rainey's Song Ch. 09byEveHasFallen©
If she just kept quiet and looked busy, Rainey thought, maybe she could avoid Lyn.
On her first day back at the magazine office, she was sitting at the draft table, absently tapping the tip of her red pen against the article drafts in front of her. Lyn had handed them to her over an hour before, and she still hadn't finished with the editing. In all fairness, she'd made a good amount of progress, but she could have been four or five pages further…if she could just manage to keep her mind from straying to Aidan.
He'd definitely done something to her, she decided. A ridiculously long-lasting giddiness had settled in her stomach and she kept replaying the last two days over and over again in her head.
Especially last night.
Aidan asked me out, she thought.
Yeah, that was the one sentence her mind fixated on. He wanted to go out with her. It didn't seem as crazy or far-fetched as it should have, and that made her even happier. Knowing that Aidan wanted a relationship with her was one thing, but for Rainey herself to accept that as reality was a huge step for her.
She had never in her life imagined being with someone like Aidan. Okay, she amended, she'd imagined it, but more along the lines of three wishes she'd ask from a fairy godmother. Yet Aidan was real and, as it sometimes seemed, perfect.
Which is why she'd had the same silly smile on her face for the past eighteen hours.
Well, actually, she hadn't. Right before she was scheduled to start working, she'd realized that she had to face Lyn and try to pretend like everything that had happened over the past few days hadn't happened. Even though she knew it was insane, she felt like everyone in the office would take one look at her and guess what was going on.
Luckily, Lyn had been in the middle of a phone call when she'd shown up and within minutes, Rainey had been waved off with a stack of articles to edit. Or try to edit. She shot a sheepish glance at the pages and, for the tenth time, told herself to just concentrate and get it over with. She'd just marked up another two pages when Lyn's office door opened.
Her earlier apprehension returned, so she tried to look as busy as possible, hoping Lyn wouldn't approach her, but of course the editor walked straight over to the draft table. Rainey didn't look up, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Lyn had propped one hand on her hips, the other held a stack of photos.
"What have you been doing with Aidan?" Lyn asked.
Shocked, Rainey practically swallowed her tongue. "W-what?" Her eyes shot to Lyn's face where a broad, satisfied smile beamed down at her.
"You're a miracle-worker, kid." Lyn waved the photos under Rainey's face before spreading them out on the drafting table. "First time in months that Aidan's gotten photos in early."
Realization dawned on Rainey. Lyn was talking about the fact that Aidan was mentoring her; she thought Rainey had had something to do with Aidan turning his work in before deadline.
Relieved, she smiled. "If he turned in his work early, it wasn't because of me."
Lyn's brow furrowed a bit, but she was too focused on examining the photos she'd just laid out to pay much attention to Rainey. "So you haven't seen these?" She pushed an image of a roaring waterfall toward Rainey. "Look at them. They're amazing. I mean," she showed another, of marshy dunes leading out toward a calm ocean. "Aidan's good. Very good. But these are just…" she trailed off, shooting a knowing smile at Rainey. "Come on, this had to be partly you. His work wouldn't improve overnight like this for no reason."
This time, Rainey was too busy flipping through the photos to respond.
They looked like they were taken somewhere on the coast. In many of them, furry evergreens stood like silent sentinels on the edge of moss-covered, rocky outcropping that jutted out dozens of feet above the crashing Pacific Ocean. Her hand strayed toward a few of them and she lightly traced the place where water and sky met.
"Where were these taken?" she asked, her voice a reverent whisper.
Lyn's voice barely penetrated her admiration. "Deception Pass. That state park out by…"
Nodding, Rainey still didn't look up. Aidan's photographs were spellbinding, almost hauntingly gorgeous. She couldn't bring herself to look away, her eyes tracing and retracing each image over and over the way her hands had moments before.
"He's…fantastic," she said at last, finally turning her attention to Lyn. "These are amazing."
"You don't have to tell me that." Lyn sat on the edge of the desk, her petite frame making it so that only the tips of her toes touched the floor. "Like I said, he's always been talented, but these are on a whole different level."
Forcing herself to focus on Lyn's words, Rainey tucked her hands into her lap. "What do you mean?"
"Look," Lyn picked up the picture of the evergreens on the cliff, "this is a great photo. It'll look amazing as a full-page in the magazine. But," she shook her head, examining the shot, "it's more than a travel photo. I mean, God, the texture and contrast, alone, are stunning. I almost feel bad publishing it in our little travel magazine. This is art."
Rainey silently agreed, but it wasn't only these photos that struck her. Each time she saw Aidan's work, she had to force herself to look away. His photographs made her want to curl up and explore every detail, every nuance and angle. Lyn was absolutely right; Aidan wasn't simply a freelance photographer, he was an artist.
"You had to have done something, Rainey," Lyn was saying. "Getting this kind of work from him—and early—doesn't happen every day."
"This isn't me," she said. "This all Aidan." In spite of herself, her hand stole out and touched one of the photos again. She simply couldn't get enough. "It's like I can hear his voice when I look at these."
That last part, she'd said mostly to herself, but realized Lyn's inquisitive gaze was settled on her. Pulling her hand back, she looked away, knowing she'd said way more than she should have just then. Maybe Lyn hadn't noticed, though…
No such luck.
"So," the editor asked after a few moments of silence, "how did everything go with Aidan last week?" Her tone, a bit too interested, made Rainey want to squirm.
She tried nonchalance. "Good…he's pretty unorganized like you said, so…that's the hardest part." Belatedly, she realized that her casual act might work out better if she were able to meet Lyn's eyes.
Ever persistent, Lyn urged, "Well, give me some details. I want to know if this was worthwhile. What'd you learn from him?"
Rainey felt herself flush. She'd learned quite a few things from Aidan, but most of them probably weren't what Lyn had been going for when she stuck them together. Again, her eyes slid away to land on the article in front of her, absently studying her own notes in red ink all over the page.
She bit the inside of her lip. "He, um, showed me…"
That he thinks I'm beautiful, her mind whispered.
Her blush intensified. "…how the whole photo development process works. In his darkroom." She grimaced, not even sure if that had been a complete sentence. "And," she barreled on, "he taught me…"
How incredibly amazing and overwhelming kissing him can be…
Flustered, she blurted, "He taught me how to pack and unpack his camera bag, how he deals with photo requests and how he tries to convey the clients' concept with his work."
Okay, that had definitely been a full sentence. The only problem was that she'd been so determined to get it out, and for Lyn to quit staring at her with those searching eyes, that her words ran together in a long-winded jumble.
Lyn was still looking at her. With decidedly more interest than Rainey's last comment should have piqued. "Rainey…" she started, "come into my office for a minute. I want to talk to you."
Feeling like a schoolgirl on her way to the principal's office, she pushed out of her seat and followed Lyn across the main editing floor toward her office. She felt like everyone was staring at her, knew everything that had gone on between her and Aidan. And, idiotic, Aidan-obsessed girl that she was, she kind of liked the idea of their knowing.
She stared at the back of Lyn's head as they entered her office. Well, maybe she could do without this little conversation, though. Lyn saw far, far more than Rainey wanted or expected. Then again, she admitted, she'd practically been fawning over his photographs, so it probably wouldn't take a mind reader to see Rainey's newly formed obsession with him.
Inside the office, she took a seat in front of Lyn's desk. Lyn, in turn, stared at her for a long moment, so long that Rainey wondered if she was just planning on waiting her out until she cracked. Which wouldn't take too long, Rainey thought, considering how nervous and uncomfortable she was at the moment.
Damn Lyn, she made Rainey feel like a nine-year-old caught doing something she wasn't supposed to.
"So," Lyn began, "how've things been with Aidan? Good?"
"Yes," Rainey murmured, staring at a spot just over the editor's shoulder. "It's been good."
"And Aidan, he's been helpful as a mentor?"
Nodding, Rainey pressed her hands flat onto her lap to keep them from fidgeting. This whole thing would be a lot easier if Lyn weren't staring her down with those all-knowing eyes. It wasn't so much that Rainey wanted to lie to her about her relationship with Aidan, she just didn't like the idea of talking about it. With her boss of all people.
"When I was in college," Lyn said, leaning back in her chair, "I had this gorgeous history professor. Dr. Williamson," she smiled at the memory. "I adored that man. He was brilliant and funny and, most importantly, a perfect specimen of male beauty. Of course, I had a huge crush on him. Spent way too much time in his office after class—drooling over him." She laughed.
"But he pretty much didn't see me as anything other than an over-eager student. And I guess that was a good thing because…it was sort of a safe crush on someone that I liked and respected but who, otherwise, probably wasn't the best love interest." Pausing, Lyn regarded Rainey with a pointed look. "You know what I mean?"
Rainey, having grown more and more uncomfortable as Lyn spoke, knew exactly what she was getting at. Lyn thought that Rainey had a one-sided crush on Aidan and that's why she'd dragged her into the office.
Well…great. Now Rainey didn't know what to be more embarrassed about: the fact that Lyn was trying to give her own variety of roundabout relationship advice…or the thought that she now had to respond. Somehow.
"Uh…" she began, still avoiding Lyn's eyes. "Yeah, I get it. But it's not…I mean, I don't…" she cleared her throat. "Aidan and I…" Crap. She hadn't meant to link their names together like that. It came out all breathy-sounding and lovesick.
Sensing her discomfort, Lyn murmured, "Listen, Rainey, being attracted to Aidan…it's understandable. Hell, half the women in this office have had their little crushes on him. It's fine. Assuming there's an attraction, I just want to make sure that you're comfortable working with him—if that's the case."
Flustered, Rainey muttered, "It's fine. Really. He and I—we're handling it."
Damn. Her eyes flew to Lyn's face. She hadn't really meant to be so direct about the issue, but referring to herself and Aidan as "we" pretty much wiped the conciliatory expression of Lyn's face, replacing it with a surprised one.
"You're…handling it? Both of you." That last part was a statement rather than a question. Lyn's voice, calm and even, brought Rainey's eyes up to her dark brown ones. "Care to expand on that?"
She'd rather walk naked down Pike Street. "Uh, no…" Rainey said. "Not really."
"Rainey." It was a gentle statement that said I know something's up so you might as well tell me.
Perversely, Rainey tried to prolong the inevitable for a bit longer. "Yes?"
"Did something happen between you and Aidan?"
Rainey was pretty certain that her entire body, from scalp to toenails, blushed a bright red. Holding on to the last bit of normalcy she had in her, she asked, "Do I have to answer that?" Her voice sounded ridiculously guilty, even to her own ears.
Lyn's mouth quirked to the side. "Legally, no." She leaned forward, elbows propped on her desk. "I know that, technically, what you and Aidan do—or don't do—is none of my business," she said. "But I am running a business here and, for all intents and purposes, you're both my employees. So," she pinned her gaze on Rainey, "at least tell me—is there something I should be worried about? Between you and Aidan?"
Did she have a sign on her forehead? Rainey wondered. Was that it? Because, honestly, five minutes ago, she'd been quietly editing and now, after exchanging maybe a dozen sentences with Lyn, she'd already been found out. It hadn't exactly been her plan to hide her relationship with Aidan from Lyn. But she definitely hadn't planned to be sitting in editor's office, discussing her romantic involvement with Aidan.
Yeah, she wasn't ready for this. Especially since she wasn't exactly sure what she and Aidan had decided on. They were dating now, yes, but dating and a relationship weren't quite the same thing. No matter how much she wanted them to be.
But, after what Aidan had told her last night, about his past relationship, she was determined not to press him too far, too fast. Besides, she wanted to take things slow, too. Just like he did. Part of her was still adjusting to everything; part of her still waking up to the fact that, yes, she and Aidan were…or almost were…in a relationship.
That same excited feeling flitted through her stomach and she smiled, only to realize that Lyn was still staring at her, waiting for an answer to her question. Should Lyn be worried?
"You don't have to worry," Rainey said, then caught Lyn's raised eyebrow. With a silent groan, she gave in. "Okay, there's a reason to worry. Just…you don't have to. Not really."
Damn, she was back to stammering out half-sentences. Oh, well. This was Lyn's fault anyway; she shouldn't ambush people like this and make them talk about things they were still sorting out.
"Well…" Lyn eased back into her chair, watching Rainey. "I don't want details." Thank God, Rainey thought. "But I do have a question, though."
Rainey tensed slightly. "Okay."
"Was it because of the mentoring? Is that how this happened?"
An image of Aidan's face across the table from her at Soleil flickered through Rainey's mind. This time, she managed to hold back the smile. "No, it wasn't because of the mentoring. It started…before then."
A knowing look spread across Lyn's pixie-like face. "So that's why neither of you wanted to do the mentoring," she guessed. Blushing, Rainey was too embarrassed to respond. Lyn laughed at her obvious discomfort. "Well, I was going to ask if you wanted to continue with the mentoring thing, maybe two or three times a week, but under the circumstances…"
Excitement flowed through Rainey. Her shameless heart, and body, couldn't get enough of being close to Aidan. But she waited for Lyn to make a final decision in the matter.
Tapping a finger against her mouth, Lyn shuffled through Aidan's photos, which she'd brought with her from the draft table. Finally, she looked up at Rainey again.
"I have to admit, this is some of his best work." She eyed a few of the images. "And he got them in early for the first time in…well, ever." The photographs flopped back down on the desk. "Damn it, my favorite photographer and one of the best interns I've ever had." Lyn gave a resigned smile. "I'm going to keep you on with him. Once a week, so you can get his filing under control. But don't make me regret it," she warned. "I'm expecting you to keep him on his toes, kid. As far as I can tell, you've done a great job at that."
"I…thanks." Rainey's head was spinning. In practically one breath, Lynn had called her one of her best interns and she'd extended her work arrangement with Aidan. The awkwardness still hung in the air, but so did a new excitement at the prospect of spending more time with Aidan.
She stood up, wanting to escape Lyn's watchful eyes. "I'm almost done with the edits, so I'm going to get back out there--"
"Oh, Rainey?" Lyn called as Rainey opened the door.
She turned back, one hand still on the doorknob. "Yeah?"
Lyn grinned, her teasing voice low enough for only Rainey to hear. "No hanky-panky while you're on the company clock, missy."
Blushing to the roots of her hair, Rainey shut the office door and went back to editing.
Letting out an exhausted sigh, Aidan leaned back in his desk chair, linking both hands behind his head. He flicked a tired glance at the clock on the lower portion of his computer screen. Almost six pm. He was trying to finish up notes from an interview he'd done at a homeless camp—part of a project for one of his graduate school classes—but the words just kept running together on the screen.
He knew he could only blame part of his lack of productivity on tiredness. Most of it, he knew, came from the fact that Rainey was waiting for him in his living room. He'd picked her up after she finished at the office and brought her back to his place and they ordered Chinese food. He'd told her he needed half an hour or so to finish up the project and, by then, the food should probably have arrived.
Really, though, all he wanted to do was shut down his laptop and go sit with her, be near her. Damn she was distracting, he thought with a grin; but man, he liked that. Jean was right, Aidan mused. He'd spent too long focusing on work and school without taking time to just be. But Rainey made him want to slow down and relax. It'd been a long time since he'd simply been happy and at ease without second-guessing everything. He brought his hands back down to the laptop keyboard.
Five more minutes. He could manage to sit through five more minutes at the computer before he gave in and went out to Rainey.
He'd almost reached his goal, though he was half-convinced that time slowed down a bit, when his office phone rang. Expelling a frustrated breath, he considered not answering it but knew it might be a client, so he lifted the cordless receiver, cradling it between his cheek and shoulder as he continued typing.
"This is Aidan," he said.
"Aidan. Good, I'm glad I caught you." The voice on the other end was deep, a little raspy, but full of a crisp intelligence.
Surprised, Aidan stopped typing, one hand going up to wrap around the phone. "Professor Graham?" The last thing he'd expected was to hear from his university graduate advisor; especially at six in the evening, long after the photojournalism professor's normal office hours.
"Yeah, it's me," the professor said. "I know this is a bit unexpected, but I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible."
Uneasiness tightened in Aidan's stomach. Absently, he saved the file he was working on and shut off his laptop. "Okay…" he said. "What about?"
Professor Graham's heavy sigh didn't do much for Aidan's growing apprehension. "Well, I have some potentially bad news. The journalism department has been going through some financial issues this year—over-spending, bad budgeting, and so on—and there's been talk of cutting some funding throughout the department."
Tightness spread through Aidan's neck and he rubbed at the taut muscles. "So…what does that mean?"